Biometrics Charts Course to Secure Future

May 2001
By Henry S. Kenyon

Personal identification technologies such as fingerprint, voice and facial recognition are adding another layer of security to government facilities and computer systems. Once prohibitively expensive, these devices are poised to become ubiquitous applications in wireless communications equipment, portable and desktop computers, smart cards and secure area access systems.

How they are applied today and in the future was the theme of the Biometrics 2001 conference in Arlington, Virginia. Keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello, USA, director of Information Systems, Command, Control, Communications and Computers, U.S. Army, explained that biometrics will grow in importance because information assurance is necessary to protect the Global Information Grid (GIG). As the U.S. Army begins to view itself as an information-based business, it must decide which security systems to apply across the entire enterprise. The general explained that security is an Achilles’ heel because most threats are from within. Biometrics counters internal security threats by raising information assurance standards, he said.

The first conference session focused on the current state of the art, trends and directions in implementing biometrics measures. Fernando Podio, biometrics smart card project manager with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) Information Technology Laboratory, discussed efforts to develop common standards. He highlighted work by NIST and a consortium of public and private sector partners to develop technical guidelines for biometrics technologies.

Dr. Donald Prosnitz, the Department of Justice’s chief science and technology adviser, discussed the use of biometrics in law enforcement. One major project underway is the integration of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s and the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s fingerprinting systems into a single database. The use of biometrics will provide an additional level of security screening for the millions of people entering the United States, he added.

Infrastructure and logistics applications services were reported by Kenneth C. Scheflen, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center. He described a smart card program for U.S. troops in South Korea that registers individuals with access to U.S. military facilities and provides varying levels of entry. For example, in an emergency, vital personnel can enter the base with fingerprint identification, but individuals such as foreign employees may be denied admittance.

Dr. Steven King, special adviser for critical infrastructure protection, Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, recounted a pilot study for a medium-scale personnel and visitor tracking system using biometrics. Several technologies such as iris imaging and facial recognition are being considered for their suitability. King noted that iris imaging is more viable because it has a very low false identification rate.

Early afternoon speakers discussed the use of biometrics to achieve the Defense Department’s Joint Vision 2020. Benjamin Acre, manager, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence programs with GRC International, explained that the GIG will require an additional layer of security for joint operations. Biometrics systems also are needed throughout the military, from weapons systems to support functions, he added.

However, biometrics is not an end in itself, explained Brig. Gen. Anthony Bell, USAF, director, command, control, communications and computers, Joint Forces Command. While it is a way to help the services verify that individuals are whom they claim to be, the general cautioned that more work must be done before the Defense Department can employ the technology successfully with joint and coalition forces.

Phillip J. Loranger, director of the Defense Department’s Biometrics Management Office, discussed difficulties in developing and integrating technologies and systems. Because maintaining personal information is important, the Defense Department is placing biometrics data on templates similar to medical information. However, a significant amount of encryption may be necessary to protect this data, he cautioned. Loranger also outlined efforts by the Defense Department’s Biometrics Fusion Center to work with the private sector, academia and government to test and evaluate biometrics products.

A perspective on the future of biometrics was provided by Jeffrey S. Dunn, the National Security Agency’s chief of identification and authentication research. Dunn noted that technological advances will make biometrics more accurate, less expensive, faster and easier to use. For example, the cost of fingerprint recognition devices in the past decade has gone from thousands to hundreds of dollars. He noted that many other expensive systems such as iris and facial recognition now are being built into laptop and desktop computers as accessories. As more open standards are adopted, biometrics systems such as fingerprint, voice and facial recognition will be included in wireless communications devices, Dunn predicted.

The conference closed with a discussion by Vice Adm. Richard Mayo, USN, director, Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control Directorate, U.S. Navy. The admiral described the use of fingerprint recognition systems on Navy ships to restrict physical access to critical areas. In the future, the Navy will use voice and fingerprint identification for liberty authorization, quarterdeck visitor control, weapons and ordinance access and special weapons activation. Adm. Mayo added that these functions work well for a single ship, but the challenge is to extend them to the battle group and the beach.